URLs: Our Directions to Navigate and Connect
URLs are our map of the internet: we use them to navigate websites, link from one website to the other, and enable us to share useful and interesting addresses with our peers. Basically, a URL is a web address. One of our favorite ways to view and share URLs is on social media; we love to share our quirky and interesting finds with our friends.
rebrandly.com defines URLs as being “the connectors of the web” and they are a mean of online communication. Without them we would be entirely lost in the World Wide Web. Another way to look at a URL is a thread in the web, linking one lattice to another.
However, these web maps can get very complicated and lengthy, resulting in URLs which seem to go on forever, which can get quite messy and confusing. Link shortening to create a small URL was born in 2001: the first redirection service, MakeAShorterLink (bought by TinyURL in 2002). It turned a very lengthy URL such as:
into a small manageable URL:
So how does a link shortener work?
In effect a URL shortener is a proxy. A proxy receives the request for a “normal” URL and then redirects the request to that URL.
Other than for visual compactness, why do we sometimes need to shorten URLs?
Reason 1: Email Restrictions
Extremely long URLs, due to the complexity of the WWW, are often too long to fit into an email message line, resulting in a break in the URL which translates to a literally broken link. The downside is that most link shorteners make the domain name, so the recipient of the email might not know whether to trust the source and click on it or not. This opened the door to spammers, who were actively disguising URLs through shortening.
Reason 2: Twitter
Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has had a character limit of 140 characters per tweet. This restriction on words called for a small URL to fit the short tweet. So if you were lucky, the link you wished to share on Twitter was short enough to fit in the 140 character limit, but even so , you would not be able to add a personal comment along with it. A small URL, on the other hand, allows us to tweet with a personal touch and squeeze in some hashtags too.
Reason 3: The expansion of social media
The growth in social media and the creation of more and more platforms such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram all were crying out for small URLs. Sharing had become the new caring and everyone wanted to be able to share instantly.
Reason 4: A powerful marketing tool
Link shorteners evolved from merely making a long URL small into a custom domain shortening device, making sure brand awareness was not lost. As URL shorteners not only had to reduce length but turn URLs into precise character count links, the introduction of brand and trackability were soon number one. These new small URL bite sizes became marketing tools, elevating online engagement.
Reason 5: SEO preservation
According to several sources, a small URL will not affect your SEO badly; in fact it’s actually the opposite. Even though a shortened link is masking the original URL, in effect it is evaluated as a regular 301 redirect by the search engines. Just be sure you use a shortener which does the redirect properly.